Necessity is such a strong term. For something to be a necessity it’s got to be almost a matter of life or death. Eating, sleeping, mating, and defending yourself from harm, these are necessities. What’s the proof? The lengths to which we are willing to go in the name of necessity are proof. Even if such necessities push us to dehumanizing behavior.
Consider the English case of Regina v. Dudley & Stephens (1884). Three sailors and a cabin boy, as a result of shipwreck, were adrift in an open lifeboat more than a thousand miles from land; on the twentieth day, having been nine days without food and seven days without water, two of the men killed the cabin boy with a knife; the three men fed upon his body and drank his blood; four days later the three survivors were rescued by a passing ship, although in this time they and the boy (who was in the weakest condition) would probably have died had not one of them been killed and eaten (LaFave & Scott Crim. Law 2nd Ed.) Their defense at trial was”¦ you guessed it, necessity.
Black’s Law Dictionary defines this legal defense, “A person is excused from criminal liability if he acts under duress of circumstances to protect life or limb or health in a reasonable manner and with no other acceptable choice.”
Yes, necessity is a strong term, but thankfully and rightfully necessity has its limits. Driven by necessity Dudley and Stephens committed murder, but with their conviction necessity was found to be no defense against a charge of murder.
OK, the case is an extreme example, but still necessity is no better a defense to smartphones than it is to murder. Therefore, for the New York Times to declare and promote smartphones as a necessity (“Smartphone Rises Fast From Gadget to Necessity”, Technology, June 10, 2009) crosses the limits of necessity, especially given the potentially dehumanizing effects of smartphone abuse. Times writer Steve Lohr admits at the end of his piece, “Such a digital connection can have its downside. The perils of obsessive smartphone use have been well documented, including distracted driving and the stress of multitasking. CrackBerry, a term coined years ago, is telling. The smartphone, said Mr. Meyer, a cognitive psychologist, can be seen as a digital ‘Skinner box,’ a reference to the experiments of the behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner in which rats were conditioned to press a lever repeatedly to get food pellets. With the smartphones, he said, the stimuli are information feeds. ‘It can be powerfully reinforcing behavior,’ he said. ‘But the key is to make sure this technology helps you carry out the tasks of daily life instead of interfering with them. It’s about balance and managing things.’”
Yet, Lohr carefully builds his case for the rise from novelty (i.e. gadget), skipping convenience (what happened to convenience as the purpose of technology), to necessity on two unlikely characters, consumer sociology and psychology.
“For a growing swath of the population, the social expectation is that one is nearly always connected and reachable almost instantly via e-mail. The smartphone, analysts say, is the instrument of that connectedness – and worth the cost, both as a communications tool and as a status symbol”¦‘The social norm is that you should respond within a couple of hours, if not immediately,’ said David E. Meyer, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. ‘If you don’t, it is assumed you are out to lunch mentally, out of it socially, or don’t like the person who sent the e-mail.”
Sounds more like consumer coercion and psychological intimidation. I’d say guilt trips such as “social expectation,” “status symbol,” and “out to lunch mentally,” added to the feeling of being a moving target are quite a cost to pay for “connectedness.” Slow down world and let me off, now I remember why I dropped out in the 60’s.
But, this is not about me. It’s about necessity and necessity is just not an adequate defense to smartphone abuse. There is another acceptable choice for connectedness, meditation.
Hutcherson, Seppala, and Gross, members of the Psychology faculty at Stanford University, recently published the results of a study entitled “Loving-Kindness Meditation Increases Social Connectedness,” in the journal, Emotion (2008, Vol. 8, No. 5, 720-724). From their abstract, “The need for social connection is a fundamental human motive, and it is increasingly clear that feeling socially connected confers mental and physical health benefits. However, in many cultures, societal changes are leading to growing social distrust and alienation. Can feelings of social connection and positivity toward others be increased? Is it possible to self-generate these feelings? In this study, the authors used a brief loving-kindness meditation exercise to examine whether social connection could be created toward strangers in a controlled laboratory context. Compared with a closely matched control task, even just a few minutes of loving-kindness meditation increased feelings of social connection and positivity toward novel individuals on both explicit and implicit levels. These results suggest that this easily implemented technique may help to increase positive social emotions and decrease social isolation.”
So it seems that meditation affords one the goals of consumer sociology and psychology, i.e. strong lasting social connections in positive loving relationships, without the cost of the smartphone (according to Lohr $100 to $300 for the phone and another $80 to $100 a month for the data and calling service plans). But what about employment related arguments?
“I absolutely got it for the job search,” says Helene Rude. “I don’t know if it’s really an expectation, but if another job candidate returns an e-mail message eight hours later, and you get back immediately with a message that says, ‘Sent from my iPhone,’ I think it has to be a check box in your favor.” Lohr continues, “That is certainly the sort of message the wireless industry would like to reinforce. ‘Smartphones are seen as essential to be productive in a mobile society,’ said David Christopher, chief marketing officer at AT&T’s wireless division.”
Well, last time I was looking for a job things like creativity, intuition, and congeniality were qualities the employer was seeking in a candidate. The ancient science of meditation actually makes one a better employee. Benefits of meditation include the mind becoming quieter and more harmonious as restlessness is removed. The frequency of brain waves change as meditation produces alpha brain waves, which produce a more creative and intuitive state of the mind.
In a January 2006 article for Time.com Lisa Takeuchi Cullen reports, “Everyone around the water cooler knows that meditation reduces stress. But with the aid of advanced brainscanning technology, researchers are beginning to show that meditation directly affects the function and structure of the brain, changing it in ways that appear to increase attention span, sharpen focus and improve memory”¦ [A] growing number of corporations—including Deutsche Bank, Google and Hughes Aircraft—offer meditation classes to their workers”¦Making employees sharper is only one benefit; studies say meditation also improves productivity, in large part by preventing stress-related illness and reducing absenteeism”¦Another benefit for employers: meditation seems to help regulate emotions, which in turn helps people get along.”
Again, meditation offers an acceptable alternative to Lohr’s necessity argument.
Smartphones a necessity”¦I don’t buy it.